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Why Gov. Evers filed suit against state Republicans & what this means for UW system staff wage increases

The legislature and Evers both approved a salary increase for all state employees, but a joint committee recently withheld funds for UW system staff only.
Posted at 9:21 AM, Nov 03, 2023

FOND DU LAC — It's being described by some as a "war for talent" in the state of Wisconsin, as state lawmakers battle between cutting public university funding and giving those professors and other faculty raises.

A battle that now could make its way to the Wisconsin Supreme Court.

On Tuesday, Governor Tony Evers filed suit against state Republicans after he said they violated the state constitution.

This comes after a committee approved raises for all state employees except University of Wisconsin system staff. Raises that were already approved or signed for by the governor.

"Unsure where our future is going to go for education, unsure when the next campus is going to be closed or budgets are going to be cut by the state," Hannah Gruening said.

Gruening's a sophomore at UW-Fond du Lac. She's majoring in education and wants to be a teacher.

"I have been disappointed with the treatment towards education from the state of Wisconsin, especially from the legislature," Gruening said.

The most recent disappointment comes after lawmakers approved and Governor Evers signed wage increases for all state employees into the budget. However, shortly after that, the Republican-controlled Joint Committee on Employment Relations specifically withheld raises for about 35,000 UW System staff.

"This is about the state university employees who are getting the short end of the stick because the Republicans have decided not to play ball," Evers said in an interview Wednesday.

Evers said Republicans are withholding this funding until the UW System cuts employee positions dedicated to diversity, equity, and inclusion or gives up its authority to create employee positions.

Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester), who co-chairs JOCER, couldn't interview with us this week.

The following statement was provided by his office:

“Today’s lawsuit by Governor Evers and Attorney General Kaul is an attempt to eliminate the 4% raises given to all state employees by the legislature. In a time of unprecedented inflation brought on by reckless Democrat spending, we think it is abhorrent that the Governor would try and take away lawfully approved money for hardworking state employees.”

We tried calling every Republican lawmaker on JOCER. They either wouldn't interview with us or didn't return our calls.

"This type of lawsuit is just another episode in a long series of conflicts between Evers and the Republicans who hold the majority," Anthony Chergosky said.

Chergosky's an assistant professor of political science at UW La Crosse. He said the question still remains: Who has the final say in the budget process? The governor or the legislature?

"The governor contends that when he signs the budget, that is it when it comes to issues like state employee compensation. That is the end of the process from his point of view. And Republicans would say 'no, no, no' there's this other step in the process through JOCER that will approve the state employee pay raises," Chergosky explained.

That's why Evers is asking the newly, liberal-leaning State Supreme Court to take this case. If they do, the court will decide which branch of government will have final say over the budget.

"Whoever can provide the most successful funds that will impact all Wisconsin residents, and not just a few, and create the most positive outcome, should have the right to decide," Gruenin added.

As of now, the UW System salary increases are at a standstill. There's no telling if and when the Supreme Court could hear this case.